I wrote this piece three years ago. I scribbled it in a notebook while hiding from everyone at an event I should have loved. I felt guilty; I was in a new, happy relationship; I was in Indonesia, surrounded by like-minded people and incredible wildlife; when I went home, it would be to a loving family and kind, supportive friends. That's the thing with mental health, though - it defies reason, and it can expose its fractures when you least expect it.
I've never shared the below in public before. Now, for Mental Health Awareness Week, I'm posting it in the hope that it might make even one other person feel less alone.
Anxiety is the companion nobody wants. It is feeling self-conscious in your own company, or looking at photos full of laughter and having the strange sense that it is someone else you're seeing. It is the feeling that everything you have ever known - from simple truths to facts painstakingly learnt - is lost, buried underneath a layer of grey. It is the feeling of panic and the lump in your throat when everyone around you suddenly seems to be speaking a language you can never hope to understand. It is the disgust you feel when your voice seems to come from someone else - someone you've never met - and your eyes in the mirror are hollow and blank.
Anxiety is being bullied relentlessly by people inside you that you don't know how to reason with, and their voices are always louder than yours. You never know when they will decide that today is a good day to cut you down to size.
Anxiety is looking at something beautiful and seeing only your own failure to feel anything. It is having everything you want and hating yourself anyway. It is the creeping doubt that you are worthy of the people around you, and the thought that if you loosen your grip, even for a second, you will find yourself alone. It is trying to gauge how you affect them until you feel small enough to disappear, and the vivid imagining of their disapproval and derision before they have a chance to think of it themselves. It is safer to be prepared, after all.
Anxiety is picturing the funerals of the ones you love every week - sometimes every day - because in your mind they are not just busy or preoccupied or late, and the fear of the worst is a sickening lump in your throat. The relief when they are still okay is powerful enough to reduce you to tears, but still there is the dread of the next time they are busy; the next time your fears can take hold.
Anxiety, at its worst, is not wanting to be here, there or anywhere. It is being so imprisoned in your own consciousness that every word and movement is a superhuman effort. It is the fear that one day, this shroud of feeling will be too heavy to lift off; that you will have to wear it forever.